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ISO 9004 Continuous Quality Improvement; Structure for Continual Improvement

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I am a trainer and consultant in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, quality management, and business management.

ISO 9000 Standards

ISO 9004 is part of the ISO 9000 series of Standards for quality management and can help you to achieve continuous quality improvement by providing a structure for continual improvement. The ISO 9000 series of standards consists of three separate documents;

  • “Quality Management Systems – Fundamentals and Vocabulary” : ISO 9000
  • “Quality Management Systems – Requirements” : ISO 9001
  • “Quality Management Systems – Guidelines for Performance Improvements” : ISO 9004

ISO 9001 defines the minimum requirements for a business to satisfy to meet the intent of the standard. A company that manages to satisfy these requirements should have in place a system that ensures that the company processes are focused on achieving customer satisfaction and that they have some level of continual improvement. ISO 9004 takes this to a whole new level by showing you how to continually improve on what your company is doing.

ISO 9004 Continual Improvement Process

Continuous Improvement ISO 9004

Continuous Improvement ISO 9004

The Difference between ISO 9004 and ISO 9001

ISO 9001 focuses very much on the organization processes being effective in meeting the customer’s requirements, whereas ISO 9004 focuses in addition on the continual improvement of the company’s overall effectiveness, efficiency and performance.

Where ISO 9001 can be used for both Certification and Contractual purposes, ISO 9004 cannot, it is intended for those that wish to move beyond the requirements of ISO 9001 in pursuit of Continuous Improvement of their business processes and overall performance.

ISO 9004 has all of the information you need to drive continuous quality improvement throughout your organization.

Process Auditing ISO 9004

ISO 9004 Process Audits

ISO 9004 Process Audits

What is ISO 9004

The structure of ISO 9004 is very similar to that of ISO 9001, in fact they were developed as a “consistent pair” of quality management standards. They can be implemented together or independently, the similar structure aids in the ability to implement the two together.

The full text of ISO 9001 is contained within ISO 9004, for those of you who have a copy the ISO 9001 text is boxed on each page to separate it from the additional ISO 9004 text. ISO 9004 very much builds on the requirements of 9001, (an obvious guide to the amount of additional information is that ISO 9001 has 14 pages and ISO 9004 has 45.)

ISO 9004 does not just focus on the customers of the business as does 9001, it also looks at other interested parties or “stake holders”, this includes the staff of the organization, the owners, suppliers and society as a whole.

ISO Standards ISO 9004

ISO 9004 Requirements for continuous quality improvement

Where 9001 spells out the requirements ISO 9004 spells out the intent of the standards, explaining what the QMS is really about and what it is built upon. ISO 9004 also takes each of the requirements and gives guidelines and examples for best practice for each of them.

For example;

A requirement within ISO 9001 speaks about Internal Communication (5.5.3), it says that – “top management shall ensure that appropriate communication channels are established within the organization and that communication takes place regarding the effectiveness of the quality management system”

Of course “appropriate” could be interpreted in many different ways by different people, you could also question who needs to be communicated with, what about exactly and quite frankly why?

ISO 9004 Expands on this requirement ;

“The management of the organization should define and implement an effective and efficient process for communicating the quality policy, requirements, objectives and accomplishments. Providing such information can aid in the organization's performance improvement and directly involves its people in the achievement of quality objectives. Management should actively encourage feedback and communication from people in the organization as a means of involving them.

Activities for communicating include, for example

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— management-led communication in work areas,

— team briefings and other meetings, such as for recognition of achievement,

— notice-boards, in-house journals/magazines,

— audio-visual and electronic media, such as email and websites, and

— employee surveys and suggestion schemes.”

As you can see, ISO 9004 gives examples of best practice as well as spelling out why you are doing it and the benefits of doing so. This is in addition to the text and requirements of ISO 9001. If you were to follow all of the advice within 9004 you would definitely improve every aspect of how your business performs.

Continuous Quality Improvement ISO 9004

Benefits of ISO 9004

Implementing the ISO 9004 guidelines for performance improvements will not just ensure that you put in place processes and procedures to meet customer requirements, it will ensure that you gain a culture that values it’s people and their contribution to the organization. You will have people that will contribute to the organization and ensure that the other stakeholders needs are met because they are valued and feel part of the success of the organization.

ISO 9004 is a true framework for a business improvement system, if you can implement the suggestions of ISO 9004 then you cannot fail to improve your business and satisfy not just your end Customers but all of your stakeholders.

ISO 9004 Continuous Quality Improvement

Additional help with ISO 9004

The following are some useful links that will help you gain additional information regarding the ISO 9000 standards;

International Organization for Standardization; As the publishing organization for ISO 9004 you can find information here with regard to future changes and interpretation of this standard and others.

Lloyds Register Quality Assurance; Lloyds Register Quality Assurance can help you with training for continual improvement of your processes through ISO 9004. They are also a certification body so can assess your quality management system to ISO 9001 with an eye to the continuous improvement aspects of ISO 9004.

British Standards Institute; The British Standards Institute (BSI) has been instrumental in ensuring what was once the BS5750 series of standards has become ISO 9000, they are also a certification and training body like Lloyds.

The American Standards Organization; (ANSI) American Standards Organization can give you guidance, training and help the same as the other two certification bodies mentioned above.

International Register of Certified Auditors (IRCA); The International Register of Certified Auditors will allow you to check the credentials of any trainer or auditor you should wish to use for certification or training to ISO 9004.

UKAS; The United Kingdom Accreditation Service has a register of approved certification bodies such as Lloyds which is number one on their list.

Chartered Quality Institute (CQI); The Chartered Quality Institute in London is an ideal place to join if you are a quality professional, or even for a company. Then you will have access to all of their vast resources on quality management. (Formerly the Institute of Quality Assurance.)

American Society for Quality (ASQ); The American society for quality is the US equivalent of the CQI and can provide support in a similar fashion.

The above links can help with ISO 9000 Standards, ISO 9001, ISO 9004, Certification, auditing, Training, quality management systems, continuous quality improvement, etc.


Tony (author) from At the Gemba on October 01, 2010:

Hi Jeddex, not quite sure what your comment relates to, but a good quote. Thanks for reading and leaving comment. I see that you are involved in ISO 9001, does your company also use the ISO 9004 guidelines?

jeddex on October 01, 2010:


Documents required by the quality management system shall be controlled..

Tony (author) from At the Gemba on September 18, 2010:

Thank you for visiting and commenting PDH. Customers will benefit a huge amount if they implement the guidance of ISO 9004 for Continuous quality improvement.

prettydarkhorse from US on September 17, 2010:

I see it is almost the same with ISO 9001. Customers will benefit from this improvements -- ISO 9004, Thanks for this one, Maita

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